Do you remember how you felt when you bought your first PC? It was probably pretty exciting, and you were filled with the possibilities of the fun things your new machine could do.
Your laptop or desktop was there to make your life easier and more creative. However, as time progresses, so does technology, and the things you can do have become even more incredible. Under all that plastic and metal lies a capable machine, and we're here to show you how to use it to do more than you ever thought possible.
Editing your action-cam movies? Check. Controlling your home's heating? Check. Improving your health and fitness? Yep, it'll do that too! It's time to discover the life-changing potential of your PC.
Make your home even smarter
Unless you've been living in a cave, you'll have noticed there are oodles of smart gadgets available for your home. We're not talking hi-fi speakers or a spangly blender here, what we mean when we mention the 'smart home' are things such as internet-connected thermostats, security cameras and even door-locks that you can open or close just by standing near.
You really can create the dream home, and it's not particularly expensive or overly complicated to do so. You can buy a starter smart home kit for around £200 ($280, AU$385), allowing you to lay the foundations.
While the majority of these kits are designed to work with smartphones – allowing you to take control of your home from the comfort of your pocket, Insteon offers a full home automation setup that, as well as a variety of mobile apps, is compatible with Windows 10.
It has a Store-based app that allows access to a plethora of functions, such as adjusting the lighting, checking motion sensors and managing your heating via an Insteon thermostat.
If you don't want to tie yourself into a complete ecosystem, there are plenty of standalone smart home gadgets out there, which is ideal if you're looking for a solution to a problem that exists, rather than just adding more gadgets to your house for the sake of convenience.
For example, a simple way of making your home's lighting smarter is to replace the existing bulbs with LIFX lights. Once you've done this, you can take full control of your lighting with the companion Windows 10 app, available through the Store. You can control when your lights turn on, and set the colour according to your mood.
On the security side of things, Withings (opens in new tab) and Netatmo offer a camera that can be added to anywhere in your home, giving you the ability to check what's happening at all times, no matter where you are. You can also record footage to scrutinise later.
While a security camera might seem a little bit old hat now, this kind are anything but antiquated. The Netatmo records in 1080p Full HD video and has night-vision capabilities too. It even has face recognition, so you can check who's coming through the door – you'll be alerted if it's a stranger.
The Withings also features air-quality monitoring. Belkin's WEMO range takes things a step further – as with many of these kits, once you connect the 'hub' device to your Wi-Fi, you gain access to all the internet-connected devices in your home.
While WEMO offers the usual lights, cameras and more, you can also hook up kitchen gadgets to it.
The centre of your smart home
As these gadgets need to have access to the internet at all times, there's not much point trying to build a connected home without having the appropriate internet performance to go with it. A good broadband connection with a minimum speed of about 2MBps will help things ticking along nicely, while a Wi-Fi router with a speed standard of 802.11n or above will allow your devices to communicate properly without any hiccups.
If you're in need of an upgrade, most modern routers will be sufficient. The best? Netgear's Nighthawk router is perfect for even the most demanding of wireless households. Alternatively, an older router can be given a new lease of life, and a more comprehensive wireless reach throughout the home, with a Wi-Fi extender.
Make your home more heat efficient
Your home might already have a thermostat, but if it's of the old-school variety it won't let you do much more than manually set the temperature – this means you'll have to keep adjusting it throughout the day, depending on the weather.
That's where smart thermostats come into it, as they do all the hard work for you. The Nest thermostat might be incredibly clever, but it's actually pretty simple to use. If you're a die-hard fan of manually controlling heat, you can still do this, but after a while Nest will learn your habits and adjust the heating for you automatically.
Or you can create a scheduled heating plan. You can also adjust the heating remotely, if your usual plans change, and Nest will even recognise when you're away – adjusting the temperature to suit so you don't waste energy on an empty home.
Take control of your sockets
One of the most simple changes you can make to your home, for a slightly more connected place than before, is to add smart plugs to your existing sockets. The SwannOne Smart Plug (which requires the SwannOne Hub to connect to your Wi-Fi router) plugs into a socket and allows you to control that mains without ever touching the switch – you can do it via a smartphone instead.
You can also schedule when a light comes on or goes off . Now, while doing this to just one light might seem a little try-hard, imagine if you had these connected to all the sockets in your home?
You could turn on all of your gadgets and lights when you arrive home after a day's work, and turn them off again when you leave in the morning.
Make a cup of coffee
Getting up in the morning is one of the trickiest parts of the day. But once you've actually made it out of bed, you can get use technology to have a coffee ready for you. The Smarter Coffee machine has Wi-Fi built in, allowing it to communicate with your smartphone or tablet so you can remotely boil the water, adjust the strength and even be alerted in the morning when your coffee's ready to go.
It might not be the most essential smart-home gadget, but it's certainly one of the most impressive!